After a few reports that he may bypass signing with the Ottawa Senators to test unrestricted free agency this summer, the organization announced this morning that University of North Dakota defenceman Christian Wolanin has signed a two-year entry-level contract.
In 40 NCAA games this season, Wolanin led the Fighting Hawks in scoring with 12 goals and 35 points. Per the Senators’ press release, Wolanin “became the first defenceman to lead UND in scoring since long-time NHL star James Patrick accomplished the feat in 1982-83 and was named to the all-National Collegiate Hockey Conference team following the completion of the regular season.”
As Corey Pronman outlined earlier this month for The Athletic, Wolanin could have tested free agency this summer thanks to the rarely utilized article in the NHL’s CBA.
Wolanin was drafted as a 20-year old in the fourth round (107th overall) of the 2015 NHL Draft. Since Wolanin was drafted as an overage player during his third year of draft eligibility, article 8.6 (c) (5) of the CBA permits players who are drafted in their third year of eligibility to become unrestricted free agents 30 days after they withdraw from school.
Once North Dakota’s season was over, Wolanin essentially controlled his destiny. He could either hit the unrestricted free agent market and handpick which professional organization he wanted to join or he could use unrestricted free agency as a mechanism to force the Senators’ hand. If the Senators felt that the threat of unrestricted free agency was a realistic possibility, they could come back in negotiations and offer to play him in some NHL games this season, thereby burning the first year of his contract and pushing him closer to his next contract.
Rather than risk losing him for nothing, burning a year on Wolanin’s entry-level deal is a no-brainer. It’s not like the Senators’ pipeline is brimming with offensive defencemen.
In the same Pronman article that I referenced earlier, wrote the following of Wolanin:
“He’s 6-foot-1, skates very well and can move the puck. He’s been a much better defender than in past years, although as a pro his calling card will be his offense.”
Not only does it give the Senators a controllable asset and bring some depth to the organization, it’s not like the Senators’ blue line is particularly strong. Even if Wolanin needs some development time in Belleville next season, there should be an opportunity for him to push players like Mark Borowiecki, Fredrik Claesson and Ben Harpur for ice time in the near future.
Not many organizations afford the 23-year old Wolanin that kind of opportunity, but at the same time, that’s also a reflection on how this organization has evaluated and managed its defensive personnel.